Jason Lytle on His Ten-Year Break from Grandaddy: “Sometimes You Just Gotta Duck Out”Music Features Grandaddy
Jason Lytle had not exactly intended to revive Grandaddy. The singer/songwriter had put the kibosh on his longtime indie-rock project in 2006, right after their fourth release, Just Like the Fambly Cat. He had good reason to disband Grandaddy at the time, despite its critical success, in place since the band’s sweetly eccentric debut, 1997’s Under the Western Freeway. Lytle was exhausted and wanted out.
“I was unhealthy, I was unhappy, I was overwhelmed with the travel,” he tells Paste over the phone from his home in California. “All of the demands and stuff. I’m just not really suited to that kind of living. At that time I’d relocated out to Montana, and I’d become very happy and accustomed to my new pace of life.”
Lytle went on to release two solo albums, 2009’s Yours Truly, The Commuter and 2012’s Dept. of Disappearance. He also briefly reunited with Grandaddy for a series of festival dates immediately prior to putting out his sophomore work. Even if it would be another few years before he’d reach out to his former bandmates—Aaron Burtch, Tim Dryden, Jim Fairchild and Kevin Garcia—Lytle got the sense that if he did choose to record another Grandaddy album, it would be on his terms.
That’s exactly what happened. On March 3, Grandaddy will release their fifth album, Last Place. It’s also their first in 10 years, though sonically you wouldn’t know it’s been that long. Showcasing the band’s trademark blend of melancholic rock, psych-pop and electronica, opener “Way We Won’t” layers Lytle’s whispery vocals with stocky guitar and jovial synth-work while masking depressive undertones (“Damned if we do… Dumb if we don’t”). Buzzing single “Evermore” stays the course with upbeat but overtly anxious instrumentation. This much is clear: Lytle hasn’t let time alter the distressed romanticism that initially endeared Grandaddy to fans 20 years ago.
Below, Lytle discusses warming back up to Grandaddy, the divorce that heavily influenced the lyrics on Last Place and whether or not we can expect any more albums moving forward.
Paste: What ultimately drove you to resurrect Grandaddy?
Jason Lytle: Well, that 2012 kind of reunion thing that we did was definitely a big one, and that wasn’t even my idea. I have a manager, who’s also a good friend of mine who I’ve worked with for a while, he was involved in the Grandaddy stuff as well. He was just like, “Yeah, it’s kind of crazy all of the offers and the interest that still exists.” And I was like, “But I don’t really care about that, I’m kinda doing my own thing now.” And I was happy to not be.
So anyway, they just kind of talked me into it. They assured me that things would be different and things would be done more in a qualitative manner. And I think because [the 2012 reunion] was so brief—it was just, like, two weeks of all these festivals—that I could wrap my head around everything that was happening. We had our old crew with us and we had some cool vacation time that went along with it. It was just like, “Alright, let’s just see what happens.” Maybe, subconsciously, something got planted in my head at that point. Right now it’s still an experiment, y’know? It could very well end up being this terrible mistake, but at some point I got into the idea of making a record and I got into the idea of really investing myself into making record.
Paste: When an influential artist returns after a long time, I’m betting that they’ll be able to call the shots more so than when they first started out.
Lytle: I think good intentions have a lot to do with it, too. I think in no way is this pandering or an act of desperation or anything. So I had to come to terms with this in my own mind too, like, “what is this really about?” It really came back around to this stubbornness, or this kind of consistent sort of relationship with the fans; people have just not gone away, they’ve not given up on this Grandaddy thing. It’s very impressive, to the point where it’s undeniable and it ended up being a big inspiration to me. A lot of times I’d come to these creative crossroads and I’m just like, “All right, what the hell do I do now?”
I was just thinking about this thing myself, too, because what’s wrong with taking a big break? Let’s just say you are a lifer and this is going to be something that you do for [the rest of your life]. Sometimes you need to step away from stuff. I dunno. It made perfect sense to me the other day. I was out on a run and was just like, “Of course!” Not to say the Grandaddy thing specifically, but I kind of had no choice but to fall into this music thing, and I’ll always do it on some level or another, maybe not so much in a public kind of way, but I just had to step away and I just had to take a little break, and that just meant that something was recharging, or something was rebuilding, or something needed to take a little breather. Completely natural in my mind.
Paste: You’ve put out a couple of solo records, released after Just Like the Fambly Cat. What would you say that the key difference is when writing for Grandaddy versus Jason Lytle solo?
Lytle: I think the records I did for me were definitely more kind of “me talking about me,” being a bit more whiny and introspective. I think I welcome being a bit more vague and mysterious with the lyrical stuff with Grandaddy. I felt like it was different. Definitely in terms of sounds and the construction of the songs. There’s definitely a concerted effort from me, almost in a cool exercise, to try to make ‘em sound like Grandaddy songs. Especially when all of the options that you have gear-wise and software-wise and just having progressed as far as having become a better musician or a better engineer. It was kind of nice for me to go back to Grandaddy school.
Paste: Did you record Last Place in Montana, in your studio, or did you record in California?
Lytle: There probably was only a tiny bit, like little bits and pieces, that took place in Montana. I had already kind of pulled up stakes and had moved to Portland for three years. The majority of it happened there, which coincidentally was also this period where I was in the middle of this big transitional personal shakeup—a changing-of-the-guard kind of situation. My big joke now is like, “Don’t try working on or finishing a record that you’re completely obsessed with while going through a divorce, living in one of the cloudiest, rainiest regions of the country, when you’re prone to depression and vitamin D deficiency.” I grew up in the sun, and I’m a very outdoorsy person. It was just not a good combo. So I’m back in California now, back in the area where I grew up. Things are clicking on a chemical level a lot better.
Paste: That’s good. I read in your bio that you wrote “I Don’t Want to Live Here Anymore” just two weeks after moving to Portland. You were thinking this that soon after relocating?
Lytle: It was a really stressful move. I have tons of gear, and moving is stressful no matter what. I crossed a few states, and I was trying to keep somebody else in mind other than myself. The neighborhood was just a bit dicey. I’m sure there was a little bit of buyer’s remorse going on, although there was some severe downsizing in this new place. It was just the culmination of some negative shit. It’s still kind of a funny song, and I just realized it’s probably a typical feeling a lot of people have when they end up someplace new and you have to reorient yourself. You don’t know where you’re at, you don’t know where the grocery store’s at, you don’t know where the post office is, you have to sort of relearn all these comfort things that go along with living somewhere for like four years. My way of kind of blowing off steam was documenting a little frustrating period.
I was with this person for over a decade, and we got married for a little bit. There were all kinds of problems, and moving was sort of an attempt to maybe fix things. But all it really did was just pull the veil off, pull the blanket, open up the curtains and all the light sort of shown in on what was going on. Portland was the beginning of the end, and then it was just a matter of survival at that point. [Laughs.]
Paste: To transition back to the recording of Last Place—what do you feel has changed the most about you and the band since Grandaddy last cut an album in 2006?
Lytle: There doesn’t really seem to be anything frantic. I mean, those guys all kind of have their lives, most of the guys in the band don’t do music stuff, they have normal jobs. We’re all still friends, and it was basically just a matter of contacting everyone. Everyone got contacted and told “Hey, listen, this thing is happening. We can get other people, but I’d rather not, so if you want to just work out something with your bosses. I’m working on this record and we could just go out like we did for those reunion shows and I’d love to have you guys along.”
Paste: And they were all up for it?
Lytle: Yeah, they were up for it. We had rehearsals together and we just had fun. I still hang out with Tim [Dryden], the keyboard player. We go get drinks and we’re probably gonna hang out in the next couple of days and talk about the new songs that are getting added into the set. It’s really relaxed. Like, the fact that it used to be—and it was one of the most regrettable but understandable byproducts of what used to be the situation—there was just so much other stuff connected to Grandaddy. It had become a bit of a business. It was like the source of income, and everyone was dependent on what was going on. Not to say that there’s not going to be income that everyone’s looking forward to this time around, y’know, but it’s just a lot more relaxed. Most of those logistical things are falling on me. I’ve learned from a lot of mistakes. No one’s gonna get worn down, no one’s gonna tour to the point of suicide or becoming irreparably damaged. We play these shows and people are super-stoked and we get paid and everybody wins at the end of the night.
Paste: If all goes well here, would you ideally like to make more albums with Grandaddy in the future?
Lytle: Well, there’s definitely going to be another one because I signed a deal with a record label and the deal was for two records. So I can at least promise one more. I’d be nervous to promise anything more than that. The time frame after the next one is gonna put me right around the time of retirement, so it might work out just fine. [Laughs.]